Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

More Thoughts on Dress

All this talk of Nicholas Antongiavanni’s fine book, The Suit, reminds me of George Washington’s The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation" (a list of rules which Washington copied and amended as an adolescent). In it, rule #52 instructs the reader that: "In your apparel be modest and endeavor to accommodate nature, rather than to procure admiration; keep to the fashion of your equals, such as are civil and orderly with respect to time and places." The point being that "style" ought to make one look good and respectable rather than to draw unnecessary attention to oneself. Thus Antongiavanni’s point is well taken that the mistake of "fashion" is very often the mistake of the young--who, lacking something more substantial to bring attention to themselves, seek out easier paths to glory (or "self-expression" as we now say). The only thing I regret about Mr. Antongiavanni’s fine book is that it is limited to style advice for men . . . but then, knowing the author as I do I can say with confidence that he has wisely so limited himself! But a companion volume for women is sorely needed!

Discussions - 23 Comments

Yes, Julie, the girls walking around William & Mary with skirts, bellyshirts, and flip flops could really use a fashion lesson. Of course, a pharmaceutical rep tells me that young women actually dress like this in the workplace. Yikes!

I think this is another argument for mandatory school uniforms. If young people got in the habit of dressing properly at an early age, then maybe we could avoid much of the foolish fashions we see in teens and young "adults!"

Julie - by the way, great cross-reference to GW’s Rules of Civility! I agree that we sorely need a companion volume for women. During the Founding, republican motherhood recognized that women were virtuous and would uplift men who were corrupted in public; whereas, today, rather than uplifting men, women have decided that the way to become equal is to sink to the level of men. Sad.

Clay, I have taught in private schools with dress codes. The kids dress as outrageously as possible outside of school to make up for time lost in being eyesores. I so wish you were right, though and we all hope the dress code will influence their sartorial choices when they have matured. No, they are entirely young and foolish on their own time, but at least spend a good part of every day dressing modestly.

But part of the complaint, and it was true, was that the uniforms the schools chose just make everyone look uniformly dowdy. Well, there are girls and a few boys who would be strikingly beautiful in straitjackets. They are all so very concerned about appearance that to have been able to give them a sense of style would have been a pleasure, and they might have found pleasure in it. Instead, in their awkwardly fitting uniforms, they had only fashion, as shown out of school and mostly on TV, for inspiration.

But Julie, as a woman of a certain age, it is very hard to find clothes with style in the way you describe. Hating to shop does not help. Except, perhaps, hating to shop is of a parcel with having such a miserable time finding suitable clothes amongst the meretricious fashions on the racks.

A companion volume for women would be a pleasure, but to have societal consensus on the issue would be even better.

Kate, I have taught for ten years at private schools with uniforms, and it has been my distinct pleasure to see all the children wearing exactly the same outfit. Let me explain. When allowed to dress themselves in clothes of their choosing, students think they are "expressing their individuality" but really end up conforming to each other’s views on what is cool. I prefer to see each student’s individuality expressed in the quality of their character and intelligence rather than the clothes they wear.

You guys mannage to kill me at every turn.

There is nothing wrong with making the mistake of the young when one is young...worse by far to make the mistake of the young when one is old for the sake of seeming young. In addition to this every "mistake" has an upside to it...a potentiality. Fortune is a woman and she belongs to youth...let those weary of "mistakes" stick to the limits of Virtu, but let those who love risk itself learn to relly upon Virtu when they are done navigating the river of Fortune.

Come on this is supposed to be about Machiavelli...What sort of companion volume for women would the author of the Prince pen? Read his lesser known plays for the answer. But of course I haven’t left the River...

Tony: Their clothes DO express their character and intelligence. They just happen not to have much of either yet.

One anecdote: On a "dress down day" at my school, one of my best students, a senior who had spent all of her school career in uniform at private Christian schools, came for the day in a skirt startlingly well above her knees and a one-shouldered t-shirt type thing. I looked at her, said, "Amy, what were you thinking? Go home and change your clothes right away." and she did without demur. But why on earth did she come dressed, as she well knew, not demurely? Ought I have let the headmaster catch her and discipline her completely? She would have lost the school day and not just my English class, and this would have hurt her, the future school salutatorian.

This was just my most outrageous example, and of an "in school" experience. The kids are always inviting me to go places with them, and seem happy to have me make comment on their clothes wherever we go. Of course, I am gentle. Which, maybe, touches one of John’s point; they know they make mistakes because they are young and feel they have a right to do so. I happen to agree. I’d rather have them make mistakes in a sheltered place, like school, where they can be corrected. I should prefer to see them guided, saving time and pain, rather than learn by trial and error, as I did.

John Lewis: Fortune is a river and a woman at the same time? How does this work? You make me stumble with your words. But what sort of book would the companion volume be? Having not had the joy of reading the first book yet, I am at a loss. What are the titles of the lesser known plays that we should look to?


I agree with John. John Stuart Mill had a nervous breakdown as a result of "expressing" himself only through phiolosophy and thought. The creative, artistic, and individual side of the young is expressed, at least in part, in what they wear, even if it is without much substance and even if it is in conforming to their friends’ standards of cool. These are lessons they must learn on their own.

Fortune as a woman and a river makes sense, and the reference is clear. Here’s to foolishly, yet knowingly remaining in the River.


Sorry, the play, a good one, is Mandragola.

Oh, of course, the women’s companion volume should not be modeled after Machiavelli. Egads! No. But the larger point about the difference between style and fashion should be made and not just for Machiavellian reasons. I don’t know if it should be modeled after any famous work of political philosophy, however.

As for school uniforms, I do rather like them--especially in elementary school. But Kate’s point is well taken that sometimes they do not serve their purpose if they are poorly made or designed. I know that I have observed the girls at the local Catholic girls high school and often wondered if they weren’t even more ridiculous looking than their counterparts in public school. The skirts are far too short and they seem to purposely accessorize in the trashiest way possible. In fact, most of them look like Britany Spears in that infamous video. Some unfortunate girls, on the other hand, tend to look like they are dressed in sacks or squeezed into sausage casings. So a uniform, in an of itself, does not mean much. Dress codes, on the other hand, seem entirely appropriate and useful to me. High school kids need more latitude in my view and they also need to learn appropriate dress. A uniform can make it difficult to learn that skill for adult life. We had a dress code at my high school and I think that the vast majority of us learned how to dress in a way that was attractive but still decent. Of course--some exceptions always prove the rule.

All things considered, however, this is not (I agree) the most pressing problem in Western Civilization. And John is right that the more disgusting thing is the spectacle of the old making the mistake of the young for the sake of seeming to be young. Eeewww.

I think there should be a law that all women under 30 have to dress like Catholic school girls. That’s what we need to raise the moral fiber of this country, by cracky.

I agree with Hal... (on a narrow self-interest plank).

Actually I secretly agree with almost everything Julie says. I also don’t disagree with Tony Williams. My personal dress is often times poor...but this is due more to income and laziness. I like to take risks with floral print shirts, maybe a gold chain or a nice watch. I also wear a uniform on a daily basis, and I don’t really mind because it is functional and keeps my laundry simple(especially since we don’t have to press our uniform or shine our boots anymore). But in a sense I liked the old Cammo with the jump or jungle boots that maintained a high level of, I now have to listen to marines talk about how we stole from them... (oh I had a choice in the matter).

The thing that gets me is the focus on youth and getting them into uniform. Especially the comment of Kate regarding Amy. The young woman is salutorian...probably for the sake of her parents(and she changes for the sake of her teacher)...but isn’t she allowed to show herself as something more than book smarts? If I was the headmaster I would have let such a student show up in a bikini if it pleased her. In any case uniforms belong to proffesionals, groups or teams, they mean something...but shouldn’t the meaning of the uniform be freely earned? Only those on the football team can wear the Jersey (or perhaps the players girl friends). The same goes for all other uniforms...But the overall desire to put people in get them involved in a give them peg them down in a sense, while definately having some merit nevertheless neglects the meaning of the if a coach could make his players more commited to the football team by having them all wear the jersey.

In short the dedication comes first, the uniform second. Pride in being an american comes first, reciting the pledge of allegiance second.

Currently in our schools we have a bunch of good ideas that are applied in ways that backfire...

Kate, I also haven’t read the book. When I say that Fortune is a River or a woman, and when I talk about being impetuous, I am refferencing Machiavelli. Mandragolla is a interesting play by Machiavelli. Machiavelli is an interesting if somewhat devious character. The author of the suit copies Machiavelli writting style, and apparently structures the book off of the Prince(Machiavelli’s most famous work, albeit perhaps his work on Constitutions is better)...or perhaps the style of Harvey Mansfield...(since I can’t read Italian). I also like using River analogies in part because I like the whole Huck Finn persona.

Here is "Mark Twain" on growing up..."When a circus came and went, it left us all burning to become clowns;
the first negro minstrel show that came to our section left us
all suffering to try that kind of life; now and then we had a hope
that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.
These ambitions faded out, each in its turn; but the ambition to be a
steamboatman always remained."

And of course, one of the reasons he wanted to be a steamboatman was for the dress...and another reason was for the recognition...he even envies a kid from his town who wore dirty clothes just so others would know he worked (hard?) on a steamboat. Clothes are worn before one can even dress oneself a uniform when self-chosen is worn for prestige(form), or perhaps even greater the prestige of a uniform whose form denotes a noble function.(for Mark Twain the uniform of a steamboatman...for others perhaps the uniform of a Marine...for others perhaps even the grunge look of a garage band.)

When it comes to education I think that it is paramount that we look to the heroes of students...and naturally also to the dress of such heroes when discussing proper attire.

Kate: Yes societal consensus would be a good thing. But if we cannot get societal consensus on the higher things or for the reasons behind wishing to see people more decently attired, can we at least get consensus for the following: if you must dress like a tramp, could you at least look in the mirror and make sure that you have the body of an attractive one? I took the ferry over to Catalina Island over the weekend and was subjected to more than my fair share of over-30 wannabe teen-vixens with more than a decent number of fat rolls hanging over the sides of their "hip hugging" (if any hips were indeed to be found in there) pants. Then, when they bent over to pick up their luggage (God forbid any chivalrous young man "escorting" them take on that job) we were invariably treated to the sight of some scary looking tatoo on her backside along with a ratty thong hanging out. Pretty.

the mistake of "fashion" is very often the mistake of the young

we were invariably treated to the sight of some scary looking tattoo on her backside

Tattoos are such a permanent mistake of fashion of the young...and wanna be young. If I were to write such a book, rule #1 would be no tattoos except for women who had been to prison and women who want people to believe they’d been to prison. Decorum prohibits discussion of the message women are sending when they get tattoos on their lower backs, messages they will be sending, unless they have the tattoos removed, for the rest of their lives.

First, (and I apologize to everyone else,) while I have your attention, and hope I still do, on this next day, I have been wondering and worrying about your child, son, I think, with reading problems some months back. Whatever happened with that? I hope all is well, or at least better?

Then is it feminism, or rather what women believe men want, that drives them to the ghastly dress they use? Most women I know who dress so think they are attracting. You and I find them repellent. Yet John, up there, would have a smart girl show up in a bikini to our discreet little Christian school, because she was smart. Actually, if Amy had thought it would give her a competetive advantage in becoming valedictorian. (which she desired entirely for herself) she would have come so attired.

Which does not touch Julie’s point, because Amy would have looked great - one of those beautiful children I mentioned before.
Uncle Guido, I think women are wearing tatoos and dressing as sexual exhibitionists because they are desperately looking for some man to cover them up.

Or perhaps we are all on the wrong track altogether and women are undressing because of global warming.

And all of this is much more fun than writing about something like immigration reform, which is just a heartbreaker.

Kate: My (daughter) is reading like a champ these days. Practice (and my own dim memory of phonics rules) has helped more than exercises or workbooks. It is much easier to keep her attention with a serious book than with anything else. We tackle the phonics rules as they come up. Sometimes we play "The Phonics Game" but that doesn’t keep her as engaged as it keeps my 4 year-old son who always does well in his schoolwork because he is so competitive with his sister! Now we’re struggling with Math. On that front I am out-sourcing. I’m touring a "Mathnasium" center next week. Any thoughts (even mean ones from NLT trolls) on this will be appreciated if they are useful. I cannot be of much use to her in learning math, I’m afraid!

Now, on to your question about the cause of bad (or scant) dress in women and whether it is feminism or something else. I think it is more complex than that and it is a long story that cannot be (with satisfaction) told here. So let me, in advance, apologize for the length of this reply and the haste with which it is composed. It deserves better and perhaps someday I will get to it. But, in brief, let me say that I think feminism exaccerbates the problem because it seeks to deny a difference between men and women that is very clearly undeniable. Women are most obviously (and more obviously than men) neither pure mind nor pure body. Men’s formal dress always seeks to accentuate the thing that gives him the most power in the world--his mind. Feminist women now wish to attain all the benefits of "maledom" in career and in sex. But if they act as men do in regard to appearance and dress for work in a way that does not draw them even sometimes unecessary attention, they will not easily succeed. Men will not (without heroic effort) regard a plain woman for her mind alone as well as they will regard an attractive woman. It is the attractive woman’s job to make a man regard her mind and fortune make’s that more possible for her if she does not abuse fortune and rely too much on her. But the plain woman must have virtue and work on being more attractive if her mind is to be taken as seriously as it should be. It is not fair or just--it just is. Antongiavanni points out that men should pay better attention to their appearance if they wish to be successful but what is true for men on this score is doubly true for women; women almost always need more virtue to achieve the noble lie. But when you change the objective to be achieved with this virtue from the natural ends of womanhood to something more masculine (like monetary/career success), one must often conform to the vulgar masculine taste rather than form and inform it. Thus women began to dress like men to appear more powerful, but actually gave up a significant portion of their natural power. After some time, many women rightly sensed that this latent power and realized that it could put them not just on par with, but over men. They rebelled against their feminist sisters who appealed only to the mind and began to encourage more feminine dressing that accentuated female beauty and the body. But without a solid wagon upon which to hitch this star, it has gone off into the stratosphere. The competition was on to see who could have the MOST power over men. The tramps, as might be expected, won. So we see even female executives dressed as prostitutes might have dressed in days gone by. They are "getting theirs" (as I pointed out here. Women were right to eschew the sack-like business suit of days gone by in favor of more feminine lines. They were right to sense that they have more power in their femininity than in lame attempts to emulate men. But using that power correctly is much more complicated than putting on an outfit and, unfortunately, the outfit is as far as (and stereotypically!) too many of them get in their thinking about what they are doing.

Thank you, both for the good news about your daughter and for your thoughts on the issue of feminism and apparel.

You are quite right about women degrading as they venture into the masculine world. Women in offices swear like sailors any more. Actually, one of my sons is a sailor and doesn’t speak like that, so I feel I am maligning sailors when I use that cliche. The men in the workplace are much more likely to behave as gentlemen than the women as ladies.

Math: There is a book out there the title of which escapes me right now, (Maybe Family Math) but the point of which is to make the mathematics of common household and family tasks engaging and obvious. The range is from early childhood activities through to the later elementary years. Letting your children help you with baking, (while sometimes exasperating, as in "Wait a minute, was that four or five cups of flour you just put in there?") or counting and rolling change (5 stacks of 10 dimes each makes how much money in the roll? is a very enticing way to teach multiplication) I suppose it relates to the Montessori approach.
Are you homeschooling? If so, the Math-u-See program has videos and handy manipulatives that make mathematics very clear. Almost every home school family I know uses this series. I am not good with numbers, and this program made teaching my daughter math MUCH easier this year.

Quite a segue from the point and we are probably killing John again.

Julie, I am so sorry. I never tried that link feature before. I could be sailorish myself right now. A really good program, I promise.

Can you hear me scream from where you are?

Kate: I do not have the virtue for homeschooling or the patience or the willingness to acquire either. But I appreciate and applaud those who do. But I will look at your program before I fork out the money for a math center--I’m sure my husband will appreciate that.

Mandragola was pretty clear. My favorite line, so far, is "Don’t you know how little pleasure a man gets from the things he desires compared to what he hoped to find."

I add an email address if there is further comment because the public nature of this line of chat seems to have about run out.


As if I know this will ever reach you. Oh well.

I had an idea for how to have a book for women’s clothes. We could base it on Sense and Sensibility. Sense being the way to dress with style, comfort and an eye to what is beautifully appropriate and Sensibility about dressing with an eye to fashion, expressing emotions, and eliciting emotions (specifically in men) Do you think it has possibilities?

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